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Why is a Military Dining Hall called Mess

February 3rd, 2009

Why is a Military Dining Hall called “Mess”?

The mess hall that we now know today is a place where a group of people eat regularly, such as in a military camp, military post or etc.  But although we know what a mess hall is, few people actually take the time to think about why it was called a “mess” in the first place.

When you think about the word “mess”, synonymous words like “untidy” and “clutter” enter your mind.  Then you picture a group of people eating together and pair it with what you know about the word “mess”, and you probably would think it was called a mess hall because of the clutter that goes along with people eating together.

But remember, this is the military dining hall we’re talking about.  The people who eat here are neat and disciplined.  So, why indeed is a military dining hall called a “mess?”

The origins of the word “mess” comes from the Old French word “mes”, meaning portion of food, which was taken from the Latin verb “mittere”, which means “to put” or “to send”, with the primary sense of “a meal put on the table.”

This meaning of “mess” then appeared in English during the 13th century, and was often used specifically with liquid or cooked dishes, like soup or porridge.  And by the 15th century, the same word “mess” was used to describe any group of people who dined together.  This is why the military dining hall today is called a “mess hall.”

In the US Army, the mess hall is called a Dining Facility or DFAC.  A “mess” can also be used to describe the formal affair of dining in our out.  A dining in refers to exclusive events for military members only while dining out refers to social events for the military workforce and their families as well.

So the next time you come across the phrase “mess hall,” don’t immediately have the impression that the group of people eating in the area are messy eaters.  The word “mess” when used in this context does not refer to “clutter” or “chaos.”  Instead it has interesting origins coming from the Old French and Latin language, which was adapted in English as the years pass by.

Today, the word “mess” can be used not only to refer to a group of people eating together, but also to people who socialize together, such as in social events in the military, and etc.

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